We prioritize research questions based on how well they allow us to make progress against the following three goals:

  1. Better understand wild-animal suffering;
  2. Raise awareness of and concern for the suffering of nonhuman animals in nature; and
  3. Identify viable policies to reduce this suffering.

The WAS Research Agenda is categorised into three fields of study: ecology, welfare biology, and suffering & well-being.

Note: The agenda is not an exhaustive list of all relevant wild-animal suffering research questions. Instead, its intent is to reflect our current viewpoint. The agenda will be updated regularly to reflect our progress and current thinking on the most promising topics of exploration.  

Ecology

Without foundational knowledge in ecology, we can’t understand how living organisms interact with each other and their environment. Our focus in this category is on understanding the various effects the ecosystem has on wild animals. Promising research topics include:

  • What is the net impact of climate change and ocean acidification on global phyto- / zooplankton abundance?
  • How do mild and severe eutrophication affect aquatic-animal populations (fish, zooplankton, nematodes)?
  • An analysis of the effects of climate change on insect abundance.
  • Which ecosystem types have higher net primary productivity? Which have higher wild animal populations?
  • Do tree farms have higher net primary productivity than native forests? How do animal populations compare between tree farms vs. native forests?
  • An analysis of the causal factors, such as weather fluctuations and resource competition, governing the population dynamics of ecosystems.

Welfare Biology

Welfare biology, as defined by Yew-Kwang Ng, is “the study of living things and their environment with respect to their welfare (defined as net happiness, or enjoyment minus suffering)” (Ng, 1995). Our focus in this category is on understanding how the ecosystem affects the welfare of wild animals. Promising research topics include:

  • An analysis of the implications of human appropriation of net primary production on wild-animal suffering.
  • What is the net impact of crop cultivation on wild animals?
  • What is the net impact of pasture grazing on wild animals?
  • How does reducing poverty affect wild-animal suffering?
  • In which ways are wild animals already managed by human control? Are existing wild animal management methods net positive or negative?
  • How does economic development impact wild-animal suffering?

Suffering and Well-being

To effectively intervene on behalf of wild-animals, we should understand the quality of their lives, which experiences cause suffering, how that suffering is experienced and its magnitude of harm. Our focus in this category is on identifying and exploring the causes of suffering to wild animals. Promising research topics include:

  • How much suffering is caused by predation, starvation, dehydration, parasitism, disease, etc.?
  • What fraction of wild animals have parasites / diseases, for what length of time, and how much suffering do they cause?
  • How much does psychological distress — i.e. fear, stress, loss — contribute to the suffering of wild animals?
  • Which stimuli are painful for invertebrates?
    • (Brian Tomasik, 2017)

Other

  • How does normative uncertainty impact wild-animal suffering?
  • Can conservation biology lead to net positive results for wild animals?
  • An analysis of existing research on whether plants can feel pain.
  • Brian Tomasik’s applied welfare biology research questions.

References

Tomasik, B. (2017). Which Stimuli Are Painful to Invertebrates? | Essays on Reducing Suffering. Retrieved from http://reducing-suffering.org/which-stimuli-are-painful-to-invertebrates/

Ng, Y.-K. (1995). Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering. Biology & Philosophy, 10(3), 255–285. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00852469